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The White Sheik
by Marcy Dermansky

Guide Rating -  


I loved "The White Sheik."

Federico Fellini's first film, a charming caper that follows a pair of tormented honeymooners through their slapstick adventures in Rome, has put to rest my ungrounded fear of Fellini films and turned me into a fan. Ivan Cavalli (Leopoldo Trieste), a comically serious accountant from a good family, takes his young wide-eyed bride Wanda (Brunella Bovo) on a Roman holiday. Cavalli has scheduled every last moment of their honeymoon with activities with his large family, even an audience with the Pope. Wanda has stars in her eyes for another man, the White Sheik (Alberto Sordi) -- the dashing hero of a photo-strip cartoon.

This film sucks you in from the moment Wanda begs her husband for an unscheduled half hour to take a bath and sneaks out of the hotel instead to find her sheik (Alberto Sordi). It seems that their mismatched marriage is doomed. Wanda, played by Brunella Bovo, is so young, so pretty and fresh, she can't waste her life with her petty, boring husband. She deserves to be swept away.

But it's not that simple! Our sympathies are also working overtime for poor, poor Cavalli, who for hour after painful hour must make excuses to his eager family who want to meet his disappeared bride. Fellini turns our expectations upside down and keeps us laughing the whole way.

There is also a delightful cameo appearance by Fellini's wife Giuliette Masini, who makes her first on-screen appearance as Cabiria, the prostitute with a heart of gold whose compassion gets diluted when she comes across a man who can breathe fire. (Fellini resurrected the character in 1957 for the heartbreaking "Nights of Cabiria.")

The Criterion DVD features a new digital transfer, with restored picture and sound, video interviews with actors Brunella Bovo and Leopoldo Triest and Fellini Biographer Moraldo Rossi, and an essay insert by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum.


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